I See A Thousand People Just Like Me

If I read one more report about how online education is failing at community colleges, I’m going to jump on the ranty rant bloggy blog train until it derails. But right now, I’m in a fantastic mood because I spent most of the day sightseeing by bike in Austin, Texas. I was in a bar when they declared a tornado warning, and some guy bought everyone a shot. I talked to a musician who told me about how hard it is to make it in Austin. A bartender read me his poetry. I’ve got a bit of sunburn. But since I brought it up, let’s just say, Researchers in The Ivory Tower, it was super swell of you to publish your reports during budget season. Are you aware there is such a thing as budget season? That’s what I call it, and I’m sure it doesn’t appear in any administrator training manuals. This is the season that little worker bees like me try to make the case to the Queen Budget Bees on why we should continue to fund projects that we think will help improve learning at our institution. Researchers, your timing with these reports is truly awful. May I ask you wait until July 1 to publish? This would help my hive make it to another fiscal year. Allow me to translate, Overlords of Research, “budget” is the fiscal budgetary term we use in lieu of “funding” and I know you know that word.

As in, “I will dismantle any incremental success at community colleges with my Big-Time Report because I have funding to research. Man, I’m awesome! Look at me getting published.” Meanwhile, back at the hive, little bees like me are working on “the budget” to fund our plans for upcoming year. The Queen Bees are looking at how to make cuts because of the Queen Bees above them have sent the slash and burn budget mandate. Big Dogs like you are just looking to get published with your analysis of our data; you could truly care less about what these means to the lowly community college worker bees. So instead of getting ranty rant bloggy blog, I’ve got some ideas for your next IRB approval process.

Here’s what you’re missing, Dear Overlords. Hot insider tip! Here’s what’s absent from your impressive reports. From your publications. From your public service announcements. From your publications. From your articles. From your data on our students. From your shiny pamphlets. From your declarations.

  1. We, as in community colleges, honor the open door policy from the Truman Commission. Look it up. We teach damaged soldiers, sex offenders, former/current/future prisoners, broke single parents, the homeless, the semi-homeless, the future homeless, the sisters and brothers of the down trodden, the fathers and mothers of generational poverty, the lower-class cousins of the slowly disappearing middle class—you name it. We open the door. To teach. For learning. We welcome people who are willing to better themselves. We call them “non-traditional” students and they come with all kinds of challenges before they get to our classrooms, be it virtual or on-the-ground. That outside-of the-classroom may or may not affect their ability to perform as students. In the brick and mortar. OL. You pick. None of your reports contextualize their reality. Look at that data. Google the phrase “working poor.”
  1. Check out the ratio of full-time to part-time faculty at community colleges and then dig deeper. Look at how we fund (or don’t fund) their professional development to learn how to teach OL courses. Look at how little we invest in them, yet we expect them to perform miracles with the students listed above. Interview upper-administrators and ask them if they think it’s worth it to support the professional learning of their adjuncts. Ask those same upper admin folks if they think adjuncts are committed to their institution. Then look at how many adjuncts have been at the same institution for more than a decade. Correlation? Causation? Significant? Unreliable? Valid? It’s up to you, Overlords.
  1. Check out the course load of community college teachers. Look at how many of them teach 5-7 courses every quarter. All year long. Including summer. Look at their class enrollment caps. Ask yourself if that student-teacher ratio serves the needs of community college students described above. Ask the teachers why they teach so many courses. Ask them if those course loads would be possible if OL education didn’t exist. Don’t interview Directors, Deans, or VPIs. Ask the faculty. Ask the teachers. Talk to the teachers. Listen.
  1. And lastly, research student motivation for taking OL classes. Ask the students why they sign up for OL courses. Ask them. Listen. It will change the lens that you use to examine your data, I promise. While you’re at it, ask them about their textbooks costs. Ask them if they pay tuition with a high-interest credit card in addition to their federal and private school loans. Ask them if they took a class but didn’t purchase the required textbook. Ask. Listen.

Then let’s see if you feel like swan diving head first out the window of your Ivory Tower.

I’m not going to link these reports because I can’t stand to look at them again. You’ve most likely seen them on listservs, Twitter, and the like. The last three weeks have been a nightmare sequence of discussions about money, vision (or lack thereof), and institutional priorities. In my little bend of the Puget Sound, OL education lost quite a bit on the big spreadsheet of the future. Yay you, Researchers of Mighty Reports and Big Data. Have fun on your summer holiday! Enjoy updating that line on your CV.

Speaking of holiday, I’m in Austin! So shut up, Negative Ed. Tech Nelly. Who cares? Where’s Happy-Go-Lucky Alyson?

Here I am! Let’s talk books. And forget about the rest. Forget. About. The rest.

I’ve been slogging through David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, and I’m usually a fan of the time-bending multi-layered narrative, but this book is a slow read for me. And not in a good way. It may have dust on it sitting on my bedside table. But a friend I love adored this book, so I’m going to stay with it to talk to her about it. I loved the story of the girl running away to work on a farm. Everything else has been kind of a slog.

So I got distracted from it. I bought my husband I’m Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell, as a souvenir gift from a far away indie bookstore, and I told him that I’ll give it to him when I finish reading it. Dreamy wife, right? Russell’s chapter on Juggalos is pure genius. For those of you unaware of the Insane Clown Posse (ICP), let me admit I’ve never been able to sit through an entire song of theirs. Imagine that the Cookie Monster took LSD, drank a bunch of sugary soda, and then tried to sing and/or rap surrealist illogical sentences while music-like sounds played in the background. That’s the gist of the ICP oeuvre. I don’t want to get too into it for fear that members of The Family (not Manson, the Juggalos) will attack me.

Let the record note: I’m a big fan of Faygo Root Beer. Rock on, Juggalos, you live in America. You can do what you like. You don’t have to like me and vice versa.

When my husband and I get into a dark place about academia, he makes me laugh with his idea for a niche political literary genre called “Juggalo Studies.” Imagine that you went to a conference and somebody asked you about your research; you got to say “I’m really into Juggalo Studies these days. Are you familiar with Slavoj Zizec’s take on Juggalocity?” The Hack will say yes, but of course! A potential friend and/or ally would say, “What the blazes are you talking about? Juggalo Studies? WTF?”

What Russell does well is he takes this subculture seriously (something I can’t do). He examines race, class, generational poverty, and their notion of community through the eyes of a journalist on assignment. I’m very interested in people who share “a cause” or “an identity” and what that means to them as a people in a community.  A favorite dig on the ICP is that you’ll never find a Juggalo Brain Surgeon (ouch, right? But damn, that music is awful). What’s up with bands from Detroit who wear face paint? Do Juggalos see themselves as inheritors of what Kiss started? What will the kids be like who are growing up in this subculture? Why are women not enraged by their sexism? Case in point: a woman who is attractive is called a Neck Snapper. The males will yell at them and request to see their naked breasts. How sweet.

Here’s my working title for a feminist Juggalette conference paper: “Can The Neck Snapper Speak?” Or “Save The Faygo Shower For Your Friends: Neck Snappers Don’t Need Ya!” (We’ve joked about this genre niche more than I’d like to admit, it cracks us up). The Family and their Juggalocity kind of fascinates me, and Russell’s examination of the “American Juggalo” is brilliant. That chapter originally appeared in n+1, a journal I’m going to guess isn’t on the bedstand of any Juggalette or her Juggalo. Just sayin.

Okay, Ninjas (a Juggalo term of endearment), let’s move on to another book.

I’m also reading The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, but I keep putting it down to check Twitter and Instagram. Kidding.

Really, I feel like I’ve already read this book because so many people that I respect have already blogged, talked, and/or presented his ideas. I’m moving one chapter at a time because it’s on my iPad, and I don’t always feel like reading the eBook. Because here’s the thing; I’m a total bibliophile. Hopelessly devoted. For all of my OL-This and Digital-That, I love me some good books. When I go to a dark place about leaving the community college system to try to work for The University, I start to drool just thinking about having access to their libraries again. So in the meantime or erstwhile or in lieu of, thank you, public library for helping me curb my outdated addiction.

Speaking of the library, I picked up How to Be Alone  by Sara Maitland randomly on a “Newly Acquired” shelf and I thought it might be a gag/comedy book. My favorite all time gag/comedy book, by the way, is In Me Own Words by Graham Roumeiu. I laugh every single time I think about this book. The first time I read Roumeiu’s book to friends (like they were very drunk kids that I was babysitting), I thought we were going to pull stomach muscles from laughing.

Turns out, How to Be Alone is a serious book on a topic I’ve thought a lot about since the federated wiki came into my life. Is the room of one’s own in the magic typewriter? Do I care if this gets forked? Does not knowing who the audience might be completely kill all audience awareness thus eliminating the impostor syndrome and fear? Does anyone give a rat’s ass? My fedwiki thinking kind of devolves from here, so let me move on.

When I picked up this book, I saw a blurb from Alain de Botton, and I like his writings on Proust. So I thought, okay, this is a small book, I can finish it in one sitting. Surely I’ll be able to read it quickly as escapist history, I need something to take me away from the horror show of what I have to read these days for the daytime gig (refer back to the beginning of this post).

Wrong!

Maitland has made me think long and hard about my life, my values, my struggles with creativity, and my grouchy longing for solitude. This is a philosophy book where readers learn a lot without the author being preachy or life-coachy. It’s my kind of memoir, if you will. She designs the narrative arc of this book meaningfully and she tells you why. Her ideas are like a buffet allowing readers to pick and choose what works for their needs and moods. In addition, there’s homework for further reading and thinking at the end! Be still my little nerd heart.

I recommend Maitland’s little tome. Turns out when you read this book in public, people look like at you like you’re a sad pathetic person. You can see it in their eyes when they read the title of the book. “Poor woman,” they must think, “she’s most likely going through [enter life horror here] and she needs to learn how to be alone. I bet her therapist assigned her to read that. Sad.” At the airport, I saw a woman hug her boyfriend tightly as she looked at me taking notes from this book (he was staring at his phone and barely looked up at her, so maybe he should read The Shallows).

Maitland lists out that craving solitude in our current cultural moment is perceived as self-indulgent, escapist, antisocial, and evading social responsibility. Yes! This could be my new Twitter bio. My jobby job makes me feel like I have no control of my life in the M-F, 8-5 (I know I’m not alone. Yes, I’ll have some whine with my cheese. I’ll pause here for you to either want to smack me or for you to say Amen).

Because of this workaday I’m in right now, I skip out on humanity, friendships, and the outside world at night and on the weekends. I also reflected that I’ve been powerfully attracted to loners my whole life, and albeit I can be incredibly social, a lot of the time, I just want to be left alone. Like the loners that I love(d), it ain’t easy loving me (so I’ve been told). I often get the words wrong. These last few days, leave me alone. Leave me alone. From my head to my teeth to my nose. I get the words wrong. Every time. Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Wait, I’m ripping off New Order here. This song kills me. All these years later. Every time. I see a thousand people just like me. That may be my problem.

Blog title credit here:

Here’s a passage from Maitland that makes me think Greta Garbo would have been a pal:

In retirement she adopted a lifestyle of both simplicity and leisure, sometimes just ‘drifting.’ But she always had close friends with whom she socialized and travelled. She did not marry but she did have serious love affairs with both men and women. She collected art. She walked, alone and with companions, especially in New York. She was a skillful paparazzi-avoider. Since she chose to retire, and for the rest of her life consistently declined opportunities to make further films, it is reasonable to suppose that she was content with that choice (42).

It’s magic, this book. Aside from the woman lovers and avoiding the paparazzi part, I think I can name my retirement strategy The Garbo Drifter Plan. Everything else sounds totally ideal. I’m going to read all of the books in this series now. There’s one on how to think about sex more, so I can’t wait to see what kind of stares I get with that one at the airport.

One of the chapters is about going on a solo adventure, and what do you know, that’s what I’m up to this weekend! I’m attending a conference in Texas, and I’ve rented a sweet little backyard cabin in Austin’s Sixth Street District neighborhood. I chose not to stay at the hotel because it’s so expensive and I want to get out of the hubbub of the conference gig. I’ll do my jobby job obligations, don’t you worry. But I’m also going to live it up solo-style. I’m in a city where I know not a soul. It’s a solo adventure that’s work-related. A bit hobby. A bit jobby. (a memoir)

All of the conferences I’ve gone to this year, I’ve known a lot of people. It’s been a beautiful year for networking and making new friendships. The acceptance to this conference is because the kind folks of NISOD published an article of mine a year ago and two years ago they asked me to do a webinar. Swell folks, right? I’m excited to meet some of the faces I know by Twitter avatar or by email. But mostly, I’m going to be a drifter Greta-style, collect some art in the form of cowboy boots and clothes (fingers crossed for cheapy boutiques), ride the bike-share bikes, and I’m going to write, read, eat, and drink. I’m going to go out to see music and if it’s warm enough, I’m going to swim in some southern warm waters. My only obligations are a presentation and one coffee date with a book editor who may (or may not) be serious about my work. It’s hard to tell whether it’s a spammy-recruiter-style-editor inquiry or if she’s really interested in my writing (whatever that may be). Quick side note to said to editor should you stumble on this post:

If you are serious about my writing, then I’ll buy you a coffee. I’m drop dead serious about finding time to write these days, so you need to be honest with me. I can take it. The second I smell a sales pitch, I’m out the door. Your email came at the right moment, and I can’t tell you how surprised I am to get this invite. If you’re not truly interested in what I’m up to these days and if this meeting is just a work quota for you, then let’s just go to the hotel bar and have a drink. I’ll help you fill your quota, just don’t waste my drifter time. Writing and research is not in my job description, so whatever we talk about will be on my own time. What I call the hobby job. The products of my loner solitude. I don’t mean to digress into warning-like words here, lovely editor person, I’m just really burned out the workaday bullshit (see the beginning of this post).

And these days, when it comes to my adventure time, my ideas, and my passions; I’m only adding people to my life who are as awesomely wonderful as Greta Garbo and this Grant Lee Buffalo song:

Otherwise, leave me alone.

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About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, #OER, professional development, adult education, and the federated wiki. A Memoir.
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6 Responses to I See A Thousand People Just Like Me

  1. francesbell says:

    I am sorry for your grief about the research reports – I don’t recognise them but they sound a bit crap.Thanks for the lovely book suggestions. The link is broken for the timid son one and when I search for it, it turned up an interesting first page (I think that you might like the one about the donkey) http://www.villagebooks.com/search/site/I%27m%20sorry%20to%20think%20I%20raised%20a%20timid%20son
    Thanks most of all for the gift of Sara Maitland – why had I never heard of her before? I have just checked out the local library catalogue and I will be toddling down there tomorrow. I admire her refusal to admit whether or not she had sex with Bill Clinton (little bit of irony tucked in there somewhere). We visited South Ayrshire on our first motorhome trip last year – and found somewhere we had never been before but that some of our ancestors had loved there – it’s a bit special.
    In return, I’d like to suggest an academicy book about a related subject by my dear mate Ben Light
    Light, B. (2014). Disconnecting with social networking sites. doi:10.1057/9781137022479 – when you see the price, you’ll be checking the library too.
    Something I sense and admire about you Alyson is your ability to step off (and back on again) – treadmills, thought patterns, …. – and to change track. I don’t know why I said that but I did.

    Like

    • Frances, you’re so kind! I think my off-trackness is what killed my future as an English major. You wouldn’t believe the unkind responses I’ve had from teachers and editors over the years. I will check out your sources and thanks for sharing those bits. You’re such a great model for blog responders. You always share back little bits of your learning. Love it!

      Interesting about Maitland and Bill Clinton–I honestly had no idea of that part of her past. Hmmm, I still hold firm that Hillary & Bill have had an “agreement” all these years about sex and politics. How else would that very public marriage survive? And really, they can rock on with whatever works for them, IMHO. Not everything is better alone (wink).

      I really liked your recent post about knitting. I rotate between obsessing about Ed Tech, cycling, and knitting so I love our connection. I always learn so much. I hung the card you sent on my office wall–it makes me smile.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Queen Bees, Big Dogs and Overlords, oh my! And there’s even a tornado in the story. Austin is the new Kansas, Dorothy. Or Oz. I’m not sure which. But I do know peeking behind the curtain makes you cranky. Glad you’re finding some time in Austin to unspool your brain. And thanks for sharing it here. I always ❤ your blog. (I stole the "<3" from my students. Because I'm hip!)

    Cheers,
    The Journalist

    P.S. Here's an animated four-minute YouTube video about "The Shallows." I share this with my Intro to Mass Media students every quarter. Not a one has thought they'd get more from reading the actual book. Sigh.

    Like

    • It still totally blows me away, Journalist, that you’re on the front lines with hearing me talk F2F about all of this and yet you still read my blog. You’re an awesome good pal.

      I still have the graphic novel you gave me too but I want to read it in one sitting. #HurrySummer

      Hee hee, I got to use the word, “Overlord.”

      I’ve seen that video, and I think it’s great for your class. I would love to see your one person department grow into offering more in the hybrid modality. If I was an overlord, I’d throw big piles of budget your way. Your field is so ripe for learning communities, student leadership, and experimental pedagogy. If you could somehow team up with Ardi and ORCA, you’d have some real momentum to do cool stuff. I’ve got some ideas that nobody cares about;) You’re turning a so-called dead field into a vibrant exploration of modern communication, democracy, and it’s cool to think about your department’s future. #SurviveTenureFirst

      Like

    • xiousgeonz says:

      LOL I watched it at time and half speed. Now I’d better go for that bike ride and consolidation time 🙂

      Like

  3. xiousgeonz says:

    Sorry, can’t leave you alone b/c you got to hear Stigler. I also work at a community college, supporting students in “pre-college” level courses… with complicated lives. Hope the tornadoes stay up in the air!

    Like

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